The Actuarial Table

61 thoughts on “The Actuarial Table”

  1. You are one incredible human. This story was absolutely beautiful; literally, hung on every word. Marie was incredibly lucky to have you with her in life, just as we are to be your friend. Lots of love for you, Johnny.

  2. This is just one of the most beautiful, poignant, empathetic and insightful things you’ve ever written. I think it’s one of the most meaningful I’ve read, anywhere. Your photographs and story of her, how she was intending to go forward and fix up her house and then found herself stricken, it just encapsulates the dreams and the horrors mixed up through life itself. You played a heroic role, one that reflects so well on you, for you were giving nothing but your time and love to her. You write with such meaning, and have made her life meaningful, and this is just astonishing in so many ways.

  3. Wow, Johnny, I wish I had friends like you. Blessings on you for what you’ve done.

    You write that your friend had developed glioblastoma (GBM). I have known several people who have perished from the same. All of them were heavy users of cell phones, like realty agents. One of the officially recognized causes of GBM is “High-dose exposure to ionizing radiation” which is exactly what the microwave transmitter in a cell phone produces. The telecom industry works hard to suppress the statistical relationship between cell phone usage and the incidence of GBM, but it is certainly significant.

    My computer always displays the text content of your posts long before the pictures finally fill out (sometimes they never completely appear), so I usually look at the pix after reading the post. When in advance of seeing any images, I read your statement “…I learned a fair amount about how the built environment affects us as we age and experience the end of life” I expected you to discuss aspects of modern life that have a direct effect on our health, perhaps the toxins that are ubiquitous in construction materials or such. When I read ‘glioblastoma’ my mind went immediately to cell phones. Imagine my surprise when I then viewed the first picture of Marie under the title of the post…!

    Again, I wish I had friends like you. Thanks.

    1. Saying that cell phones cause brain cancer is like saying cars cause climate change. Will people stop? Cigarettes cause lung cancer. Getting the general population to quit took decades and some people still smoke. Here’s another possible cause of my friend’s brain cancer. She was a flight attendant beginning in 1966 and she continued to fly almost continuously until her death. Way up there in the upper atmosphere there might have been all sorts of additional radiation penetrating her head. Who knows?

  4. “…But I learned a fair amount about how the built environment affects us as we age and experience the end of life. Where and how we all live is important when our bodies begin to fail. I got an up close tour of these overlapping dynamics with Marie.”

    Johnny I am sorry for the loss. These are not simply fascinating discoveries you made/documented. Why in the world did she go through with those renovations despite your sage advice? The advice that you surely gave in order to stay the loss that became a “creditors showroom” in the end.

  5. Excellent post albeit a sad one on the passing of a friend….and you were a great friend, indeed! Your beginning, middle, and end statement has gotten me thinking. Thanks for posting when you can. I always learn something new and highly beneficial from you.

  6. Johnny, I’ve really nothing to say beyond adding my condolences on the loss of your friend Marie and thanking you for sharing this post.

  7. Johnny, thank you very much for sharing this poignant story. You have my sympathy for the loss of your friend Marie, and my respect for how you helped her.

  8. Johnny, this journey you are on is fraught with all the modern dilemmas foreseen in all great literature. There are people dying in the desert alone and there are people dying in cities alone there are people all around the world isolated, alone and dying.

    “ man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.”
    ― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

    Sorry Johnny, but you know by now how I am.

  9. So sorry for the loss of your friend. You are a generous and sensible man, and she was lucky to have you as a friend. I’ve missed your writing, but come back when you feel like it.

  10. It was nice of you to help, and good she had friends and family nearby in the place she had lived her whole life. That’s what you want on your way out.

    Lots of people in our society move far away from friends and family in retirement. Market watch has articles all the time on how great it is to retire outside the country. From an economic perspective, that values friends and family at zero. But down the road, living so far away can make the final days much worse and more costly than Marie’s.

    With dispersion and family breakdown, this is going to be a big social problem. We spent a lot of $ helping my in-laws off the planet, on rental cars, train rides, and hotel stays, and they only lived 150 miles away.

  11. Sorry for your loss, Johnny. What you did was a good thing. Also sorry you couldn’t talk her out of financial folly.

    So, are you telling us that the renovation cost as much as the $1M+ that her house was worth?! That’s just… an unfathomably silly decision.

  12. Wow this was hard to read but necessary. Thank you for sharing Marie’s story. Really, your pictures could be an exhibit – they are so powerful. I’m sorry for your loss, Johnny.

  13. I’m sorry for your loss. I always admire your way of honestly but lovingly describing someone, highs & lows.
    Your visit to the Root Simple podcast is on repeat in my kitchen, as I unload the dishwasher or thump the cat, often. Along with Todd Glass’ visit with Matt d’Avella’s Ground Up podcast. I fully credit Kirsten & her work for leading me to find interesting people to learn from, even from afar.
    Takeaway? Save. Own less shit. Purge, even the lesser amount. Plan ahead. Sometimes “family” is via dna.

  14. I’m so sorry for your loss of your friend. Your ability and willingness to help her so compassionately inspires me to make some needed changes in my life. Thank you for sharing her story. I hope you will write more about how the built environment affects us as we age and experience the end of life.

    Although I already know what you look like, I clicked on the link you provided out of curiosity. I found your remarks in the discussion to be highly informative and useful.

  15. Dear Johnny,

    My condolences on the loss of your friend.

    About your post: so many aspects of this story chime a bell for me.

    I hope you will blog again with more on how and where to best live one’s last years or months.

  16. Glad you’re back and understand fully why you were away – I went through a similar experience a dozen years ago as semi-support for a friend undergoing ‘treatment’ for what turned out to be terminal cancer. What I learned from that experience lies ‘between-the-lines’ of what you wrote; that there is no way, period, to predict or accurately prepare for one’s future except to understand as fully as possible one’s current situation and live life as rationally as possible within one’s circumstances. And then realize that reality often throws curve balls…

  17. Good to hear from you again, Johnny. This a good reminder to all of us to be thoughtful, careful, and grateful for the people in our lives.

  18. Sorry for your loss and happy to hear about your compassion to help a friend at the end.

    As for the greater, theme of this post….I’m not really sure what to say.
    Your friend probably ‘always’ wanted to do the renovation and finally decided it was time. Too bad circumstances changed on her so dramatically.

    Personally, my Dad is 76 and single in mid-retirement. My Mom died 6 years ago (at 70) and made the choice to not prolong the agony (physical, emotional and financial) of her remaining 2-3 years she could have been given with modern medical science. It was tough, but I continue to be proud of her pragmatic end of life decision. My Dad has been working hard to enjoy his life as much as possible since then and plans to continue to do it for the remaining 10-15 years he likely has left (he’s in good shape and health right now).

    I think my Mom’s decision, my Dad’s current out look on life and Marie’s story reinforce for me the frank discussions my wife and I have regularly (we’re 40 & 41 with 3 sons [10-12]) that we don’t want to become or be too settled or rigid when we get to this time in our life. We constantly joke with your boys (but also being serious) that we will be selling all our ‘stuff’ (including real estate) when we hit ‘retirement’ and use their houses as crash pads between adventuring/traveling. I’m pretty sure the boys have accepted this future fact of their lives.

    Johnny, again, thanks for the insightful specific story that also speaks to current and near future societal themes and trends.

  19. Johnny, I’m sorry for your loss and much gratitude to Marie and her family for allowing you to document a really difficult subject. This post really hits home because my grandparents passed recently and the narrative is similar.

    My grandparents moved to San Francisco in the late 40s and bought a house down in Linda Mar in 1955 for $15k. That little house was the locus of our extended family for generations. My grandpa was gregarious and knew everyone senior in town, even as their little hamlet gentrified around them. They seemed happy and we visited often.

    A year ago, my grandma’s health began to go downhill. The emergency room visits piled up. My parents and her siblings had long ago retired to Oregon. They were flying down almost weekly, draining their retirement savings. Us grandchildren still in the Bay Area all helped out, maxing out PTO days. Although my grandpa was still healthy and could drive (barely), the nearest hospital is 20 minutes “over the mountain” and not an easy drive, especially at night. It was apparent she needed a 24-7 caretaker.

    My parents quickly realized they couldn’t afford professional care, in-home or otherwise, without bankrupting themselves in the process. The rational decision was made to sell the California house and buy them one in Oregon, closer to my parents. Irrationally, the house they bought was even further from civilization, in an overpriced exurban development 40 minutes from town.

    My grandma died shortly after moving in. I don’t know if the physical and social isolation of the new house had anything to do with it, but it certainly didn’t help. My grandpa died about 6 months after that, from complications related to a fall. Although there was plenty of money left over from the initial sale, it seemed to evaporate into funeral costs, my aunts’ and uncles’ debts, etc. There’s nothing left.

    The whole saga put me in a funk, thinking about end of life. What about those less fortunate than Marie or my own family? Those still with mortgages, renting or even homeless? Those without health insurance? The diseased maw of the end of life industry awaits us all, ready with reverse mortgages and enough expensive pills to take down an elephant. It makes me sad and sick to my stomach thinking about it.

    1. In the Olde Days you moved in with your kids and they took care of you until you died. You bequeathed more of the money to those who took more care of you. My parents are putting their parents into an assisted living facility to the tune of $8k per month. This is outrageously expensive for most people, but two of their Millennial children still live with them.

      I think the old ways are going to make a comeback after enough people see inheritances siphoned-off by creditors. Medical bills at the end of life are another example: end-of-life care seems to add a fortune to the cost of dying while prolonging the misery. People are going to start dying more cheaply.

      Thank you for providing some compassion in this world. You gonna tour the latest fire?

        1. I can’t believe what is happening out there. I know the power outages are mostly in rural areas, but it has to be a shock.

          You know the George Carlin thing on what would happen if there were no electricity. It ends with universal health care.

      1. Bryce – You’ve more succinctly stated what I was alluding to in my post. My mom decided she could have been kept alive another 2-3 years (at about 30-40% quality of life), but she didn’t want to spend the precious money that my parents spent 45+ years accruing. She decided to ‘stop’ and she passed with Hospice care in about 2 weeks (she had renal failure already, so it doesn’t take long when you stop dialysis).

        My grandmother was in elder assisted living for about 6 years at the end of her life, but it was more for managing her life as she was in full dementia than expensive life support costs. She had a living will and DNR, so when she had finally decided to ‘stop’ in a moment of lucidity at 92, she just went into Hospice care and it was over.

        So, support your local Hospice organization as this end of life care philosophy is a great benefit.

  20. Johnny, I’m sure this was not an easy post to write. Thank you for writing it anyway. My condolences on losing your friend and my applause for stepping up to be a caregiver — never an easy role.

  21. This touched my heart. Thanks for that. I hope we all have friends like you at the end, and make wiser decisions than your poor friend Marie. Living close to friends, family, and daily needs grows more important as we age, as your story so eloquently and sadly proves. I don’t understand why so many of my friends want to retire “away from the city” when the city is just the thing they’ll need.

    1. Nancy, so often “the city” is what people don’t need. There is a givenness of things that is denied in the sterile, individualistic environment of cities but is very evident in nature. There is a peace in nature that often cannot be found in the safety bubbles we create around us. Cities, for all the ways they compact people together, do not create communion. They often do the opposite, creating casual, separate, limited relationships. It is the same reason people do not want to die in a hospital or assisted living facility, regardless of the support and care they receiver there, but would rather die in their own home in their own bed.

      That said, everyone will approach these things a little differently in life. People who know little or nothing of life outside the city will undoubtedly cling to them.

      1. Byron – rural or in nature living doesn’t automatically create it either. The path toward the end of one’s life requires alot of services and those services are mostly in the “City” or urbanized areas.

        This whole post is that, thankfully, Marie had created at least one (Johnny) and likely more relationships with caring and willingly to help humans. That is more important than scale of urbanization of one’s physical residence.

        I, personally, would rather end my days in the City, than on the 100 acre wood in the middle of nowhere. I’ve lived in/near practically every scale/density of human settlement in North America (rural northern Michigan to city center Chicago).

        1. Jonathan, my post had to do with communion. My apologies if I was unclear concerning that. The “services” of which you speak are a modern invention, not a necessity, as several posts from others about discontinuing them illustrate.

          Certainly there are people who will prefer to finish their lives in a city (of whatever size) for a variety of reasons. Urbanization is not of any great importance. As we both noted in different ways, communion is far more important.

  22. Hi Johnny,

    Thanks for sharing this story, I’m sorry for your loss.

    Your caring nature is an inspiration to me.

    Thank you,


  23. I’ve been wondering what you’ve been up to lately. Didn’t realize it was “applying for sainthood”.

    It’s not just the “daily doing of it”, but also that you’ve found a way to organize your life that you have the freedom to make such enormous choices on short notice (unlike her family members, who I suppose are on the mortgage-payment treadmill and running as fast as they can just to stay in one place).

  24. My condolences also Johnny for the loss of your friend. Thank you for writing about it.
    I lost a good friend recently and lack of affordable housing played a part in his death.
    Blessings to you for your compassion.

  25. A beginning, middle and an end. Indeed. Your mantra has become an ongoing narrative in my head helping me evaluate and process life. Thank you.

    So sorry for your loss. Selfless love for another in need is an amazing gift to give. Our world needs more of this a million times over plus one.

    Sincere wishes for you to rest and heal in the weeks ahead. You’ve been missed Johnny. This piece, like your other work, is thoughtful, authentic, and over way too soon. RIP Marie.

  26. A massive infection made possible by chemo and radiation.
    She probably would have lasted longer with no medical intervention and had better quality of life IMO.
    The irrational renovation was a symptom of the brain cancer, I’m guessing.
    But there were probably people that encouraged her into it, because they were making big bucks, like the builder and architect.

    1. Jeff-Bingo on the effect brain cancer had on her decision making. When I read your comments, a little bell inside me began to ring. Thank you for helping me understand the irrational decisions she’d made. Sad it ended this way for her and the family…as well as the financial drain.

  27. Having gone through what you did (my friend lived three years after a stroke in the Pons area of the brain), my heart goes out to you. Especially since her wish for a perfect house went so wrong…

  28. Johnnie, My condolences to you. You honoured your friend in witnessing her last days….. what all of us deserve but don’t often experience. Your recounting is a poignant and profound call to attend to what we can heed when so much is beyond our control. Thank you.

  29. Johnny,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your friend. Losing a friend is never easy, but you at least have the consolation of knowing that you helped improve the quality of her life during her final weeks and days. I know that’s not a lot of consolation, but speaking from personal experience, it does help some.

  30. Johnny, I’m terribly sorry to hear about the death of your friend. I have no doubt that having you there provided her with as much comfort as possible. I’ve missed reading your blog, but it’s clear to me that your priorities are in order.

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